1980, France. In French, with subtitles.
Production companies: Elefilm, Prospectacle, Gaumont
Running time: 95 minutes
Writer-Director: Michel Deville
Producer: Maurice Bernart
Cast: Dominique Sanda, Geraldine Chaplin, Jacques Zabor, Cecile Le Bailly, Jean Crubelier, Valerie Masterson, Jacqueline Parent, Jacques Pieiller
In his nearly 50-year career, French director Michel Deville has made some 30 features, several of them, including "Voyage en Douce," gaining U.S. exhibition. But he is not spoken of as much as he should be in Anglophone cinema circles. New Yorker's sterling DVD of Deville's 1980 film makes the case for him to rejoin the critical company of highly regarded contemporaries like Bertrand Tavernier and Claude Chabrol.
The movie is essentially a two-hander, with Dominique Sanda and Geraldine Chaplin between them filling nearly every frame. They play Parisians in their early 30s who have been best friends since childhood. Lucie (Chaplin) is an unhappy (and possibly mentally unstable) wife who shows up at the pragmatic Helene's apartment door, seemingly on the verge of a breakdown. Helene (Sanda) suggests they take a few days to themselves in the South of France, away from husbands and children. While the two roam the lovely countryside, they each recall key erotic or sexual events of their youth (both pleasant and less so), with several memory scenes reenacted by young actresses.
There's mystery in the stories being told: Are these actual events? Embellished half-remembrances? Pure fantasy? It all unfolds at a leisurely pace in which we don't really expect much to happen, but by the finale, when the heretofore solidly grounded Helene returns to her home and family, we suspect she has undergone even more of a change than her friend -- and not for the better.
Forget about the lack of extras. And, guys, don't get hung up on the chick-flickness of the movie. This is an impeccably filmed and acted drama that slowly pulls you into its subtle mystery. Fans of Geraldine Chaplin and Dominique Sanda will get quite an eyeful -- there's plenty of good old naturalistic French nudity. Made 26 years ago, "Voyage en Douce" has not aged one moment.